Key West is a great place to get beach photos. But with three main Atlantic Ocean beaches spread out on the south side of Key West, I often get the question, "Which beach is best to get photos?" Here's the simple answer - they're all great! But they are all different. Here is a little about each beach and some of their differences that may help you decide.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park Beach
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, often referred to as Fort Zach or the state park beach, is a beautiful setting for photography. Since it's located at the southwest corner of Key West, the main beach is along the Atlantic Ocean and it also has a second, much smaller beach on the Gulf of Mexico that faces westward. The area between the main beach and the smaller beach doesn't have a sandy beach. It's fairly flat with a surface made up of easily walked on coarse sand to small gravel which heels won't sink into. Where it meets the water, it is protected from erosion by large rocks. That area is really nice for taking sunset photos. Within the park, there are some very nice features to work with for photography. There is the fort itself, which is a Civil War era brick fort with brick arches and cannons that make for nice photography settings. There are nature trails near the fort which offer good photography locations for getting photos with the fort in the background. There's a wide open meadow for getting wide shots that include the sky. Between the parking lot and the main beach there are Australian pine trees which offer a lot of shade if shooting during the day. Now, back to the beach. The main beach is a combination of coarse sand, small pebbles and small shells which can feel harder on bare feet than the other beaches in Key West. One other thing about Fort Zach is they require a photography permit. You won't have to do anything to get the permit, it's something your photographer will have to handle. Unfortunately, there's a fee associated with the permit, so sessions in Fort Zachary Taylor State Park have the additional cost of obtaining the permit. In addition to the permit, you'll have to pay a nominal entrance fee which varies slightly depending on whether you walk, bike or drive into the park.
Pros: Sunset is visible year round, multiple settings with a lot of variety, plenty of parking
Cons: Beach makeup is coarse and can be hard on bare feet, additional cost of photography permit, entrance fee required.
The area around Higgs Beach is another great setting for photography. Within this area, you'll find a sandy beach that goes straight into the ocean, another large and mostly flat area of sand with a rocky shoreline that separates it from the Atlantic Ocean, a brick fort called West Martello Tower which is the home of the Key West Garden Club, a small pier and a very large pier called the White Street Pier. The sandy beach is wide open and there aren't many palm trees to get into the photos but the fort, piers and views make this a wonderful place for photography. Although the area around Higgs Beach can be busy, it's usually not hard to find a place nearby to park if you have a vehicle.
Pros: A variety of settings, piers extending out into the water, plenty of parking
Cons: Lack of palm trees, sun doesn't set into the water except during winter
Smathers Beach is the longest beach in Key West and provides plenty of room to get photos. The western end of Smathers Beach is where watersports rental locations are located. That causes the area to be busier and more cluttered with beach chairs, umbrellas, paddleboards, Hobie Cats and people. As you move away from that area, there are plenty of settings for good photos. This is the beach I find best for photos walking barefoot along the beach at the waterline because of the soft sand, the natural curve of the beach and the feeling of depth within the photos because the beach is so long. The road is separated from the beach by a barrier wall at the wide sidewalk that runs along South Roosevelt Blvd. Because of this, there are beach entrances where you have to walk up a few steps from the sidewalk to get to the level of the beach. Once up the steps, you have to walk along a short boardwalk lined by rope on each side. The entrances are settings for beautiful photos. The area has numerous palm trees and greenery which make for nice backgrounds. There are rock jetties extending out into the ocean which can also be good locations for photos. One thing to consider with Smathers Beach is the parking congestion. Since it is the beach furthest from Old Town where alot of Key West visitors like to stay, you will likely need to drive or get a ride to Smathers Beach. It is pay to park area with limited parking made even worse by a road project that has taken away about half of the parking. The project started in 2023 and isn't expected to be complete until 2025. If you have a car, I suggest planning to leave it at your hotel and take a taxi or ride share to get to Smathers Beach.
Pros: Longest beach that lends itself to photos with depth, abundant palm trees and greenery, walkways to beach are a unique feature
Cons: Furthest beach from where most people stay, limited parking, road construction in the area, sun doesn't set into the water except during the winter.
Which Key West Beach is my Favorite?
I never know. As soon as I think I have a favorite beach for photography, I start to think about all pros of the other beaches and I'm back to being undecided. However, you may find you have a preference for one beach over the other.